Saving Piedmont Carolina Food Traditions

I’ve always heard that Southerners were passionate about their food.  It wasn’t until I uprooted from my Northern home and planted myself in the Piedmont that I realized how inseparable food is to the South’s culture.  After exploring traditional Southern dishes and wondering if there was anything that didn’t go with grits, I came to understand why Southern food is as rich as the history it reflects.

In the fast-paced North, time is a precious commodity, and I never wanted to spend it on prepping and cooking meals.  Convenient, quick meals that required minimal effort were a staple in my cupboard.  Less time in the kitchen means more time for family, fun or work. This mindset is spreading to the South, and many of the region’s rich culinary traditions are getting lost. I can say, though, at Lucky’s we’re proud to do our part in honoring and preserving the culinary legacies that have been passed down from generation to generation, serving the dishes that are near and dear to our hearts…and we hope creating new traditions, too.

While there are certainly exciting culinary developments in restaurant and home kitchens all over the world, in most homes, cooking has become a lost art.  We want to help folks explore this lost art and learn more about the rich Southern foodways that are our heritage in the Piedmont. (In case you don’t know the term, foodway refers to the practices, rituals, and habits of a particular region, culture, or time period.) By taking a look at the first victual adventures of European settlers as they interacted with Native people, plus the food traditions of various slave populations, we can get insight into how we think about nourishing ourselves in the present.

So buckle your seat belts:  We are going back to our Southern roots.

Southern food was the result of many cultures colliding together.  Native Americans planted the seeds (quite literally) that became Southern food’s roots.  When the English settlers arrived, they were ignorant of the ways of the land.  Natives were instrumental in teaching them how to grow, prepare and eat a variety of produce.

In particular, the Natives’ mastery of the many uses of corn saved the settlers from starvation and allowed them to establish settlements.  You can even trace the origins of our beloved cornbread back to the people we now refer to as Native Americans, who combined nuts, berries and water with corn and then roasted it into a cake.  When the Natives passed this technique on, the English experimented with it to create the many versions of cornbread we have today. I prefer the sweeter cornbread over savory, but that’s a debate in and of itself.

Lucky 32 Cornbread

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 fluid ounces cornmeal
  • 3 fluid ounces sugar
  • 3 fluid ounces corn flour
  • 3/4 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup liquid or fresh eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups cream-style corn

Combine all dry ingredients and set aside.
Combine all wet ingredients and whisk until well combined.
Slowly add dry mixture to wet mixture until just combined.
Pour into greased pans.
Bake at 350 degrees until golden (25-30 minutes).

Makes one 9 x 12″ pan.

Get a hunk of Lucky's cornbread with our Sunday Skillet Fried Chicken!
Get a hunk of Lucky's cornbread with our Sunday Skillet Fried Chicken!

The immigrant Europeans left their own stamps on Southern foodways. The English influenced the baking and pastries of the region: Pound cake is based on an old English recipe. Louisiana foodways have been heavily influenced by French cuisine (see etouffee and jambalaya, just to name two of my favorite dishes). The Scottish brought over their fondness for fried foods; and the Irish, their love of a large, hearty breakfast.

While many European foods earned their place in the new “American” culinary experience, it was African traditions that made the most impact on the flavors and methods of Southern cooking.  In attempting to reproduce the cuisines of their own native cultures, slaves had to learn from the Native Americans’ agricultural expertise to combine local ingredients using African culinary techniques into foods palatable for European tastes. The resulting dishes give us the first snapshot of the Southern food we know and love today.

This unique and evolving cuisine spread quickly simply because slaves did most of the cooking in Southern kitchens: Everyone ate what they cooked.  The food was so popular that by 1824, a few recipes directly from these kitchens made it into the nation’s earliest cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, by Mary Randolph. In fact, cookbooks like this provide a clear view of our Southern foodways. The lives of entire cultures and communities are imprinted across the splattered pages of recipes within them. Southern cookbooks feature dishes that were born from the South’s history of hardships and successes.

Early Americans’ foods define them and tell their stories. So what defines us today? Will we forget years of careful culinary experience and methods passed on from cook to cook through generations and replace it with an easy cup of noodles? Or will we choose to use what has been passed down to us so that the next generation will choose to continue exploring the art of cooking?

At Lucky’s, we are passionate about cooking and exploring Southern foodways.  Join us for a delicious meal informed by what we’ve learned about our region’s culinary traditions, try our recipes (like our cornbread), join us for special events, and share your Southern food stories with us via Facebook (Greensboro or Cary).

If you interested in reading more about the origins of Southern food, visit:

About the Author: Lexus Lomison is a member of the QW Communications Collaborative team (A team of enthusiastic folk that share news, happenings and a lot of fun stuff about Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels). 

Disclaimer: All our recipes were originally designed for much larger batch size. This recipe has been reduced – but not tested at this scale. Please adjust to your taste and portion size.

© 1989-2017. This recipe is the property of Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants, LLC. Unauthorized commercial use is forbidden.

For more about our seasonal recipes, see our current  menu at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and our Recipe Index

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